These lush paintings reference one of the most frequently depicted episodes from classical Japanese
literature: the "Yatsuhashi" (Eight Bridges) chapter from The Tales of Ise, a 10th-century collection
of lyric narratives loosely relating the frequently amorous adventures of the courtier Arawara no
Narihira. Here, Narihira and fellow courtiers travel from Kyoto, stopping at a site near present-day
Nagoya where eight planked bridges span streams running through a moor. Pausing for the evening,
they dine on simple balls of dried rice moistened by their tears, as they long for loved ones at home.
Lee found the tension produced by the extreme understatement of narrative particularly attractive.
He likened the irises to musical notations making a "nervous and sprightly pattern against the gold."
The subject of this painting comes from a 10th-century narrative poem. It tells of a young nobleman's journey into the distant countryside, far from the cluttered environment of the capital (Kyoto). There he came upon a small stream, the banks of which were covered with blooming iris plants. A simple eight-plank bridge allowed travelers to admire the beauty of this natural site.
While viewing the beautiful flowers the nobleman composed a poem:
I have a beloved wife,
Familiar as the skirt
of a well-worn robe,
And so this distant journeying
Fills my heart with grief.
Earlier compositions depicting this scene included the wooden footbridge, supports and flower stalks. Here the artist has allowed the imagination of the viewer to "fill in" the scene.
Chiba, Japan. Chiba City Museum of Art. October 1-November 1996. "The Legacy of Japanese Art" cat. no.153, p. 184.
The Cleveland Museum of Art; 7/15/01-8/12/01 (1st of 2 rotations). "Unfolding Beauty: Japanese Screens from the Cleveland Museum of Art."
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (8/21/2004 - 10/3/2004): "Rimpa"
The Cleveland Museum of Art (06/28/2009 - 08/30/2009): "Streams and Mountains Without End: Asian Art and the Legacy of Sherman E. Lee at the Cleveland Museum of Art"
Cleveland Museum of Art (organizer). Tokyo National Museum (1/15/2014 - 2/23/2014) and Kyushu National Museum (7/8/2014 - 8/31/2014): "Admired from Afar: Masterworks of Japanese Painting from the Cleveland Museum of Art", cat. no. 41, p. 122-123.